Monday, 1 August 2016

Going the extra mile - sure about that?

I realized something the other day about this time of year, when companies see their staff taking the bulk of their holidays between Jul and September to take advantage of the school summer break, and leaving departments pretty stretched.

Some would say, well, it's ok because business is quieter in summertime however, from what we see, working in really close partnership with UK importers and exporters, there's still plenty of business activity and of course there's always the urgent customer orders which need to be fulfilled regardless.

And this takes me to the light bulb moment, and how, sometimes, you can underestimate the value you add to customers beyond your core services or offering. In our case, we help companies to reduce their international logistics costs, ensure they're Customs compliant and act as a virtual logistics manager managing the logistics area so they can focus on their core activities.

Although this has happened many times, it suddenly became apparent to me last week, when the contact at one of our USA import customers advised he was taking his summer holiday which would span two weeks. We work very closely with this person day to day and are in the loop on communications with their USA suppliers so we follow each order from when it's placed to when it's finally delivered, measuring and monitoring service levels.

Mark advised me mid-week that he had 4 urgent orders from 4 separate USA suppliers on the go which would all be moving by air freight. These suppliers were in Texas, Tennessee, Illinois and New Hampshire however Mark would be on holiday with cover by a colleague who wasn't that familiar with the mechanics of the US shipments.

When Mark finished on Thursday 28-Jul, the most urgent of the 4 orders, which was needed on Monday 1-Aug was still not packed and the Texas one was just being collected that day. The other 2 were in motion and we knew they were set to arrive on Sunday so they were lined up for Monday delivery.
What we did here was fill the space Mark vacated and communicate directly with the factory in New Hampshire as we knew it absolutely had to be picked up Friday to achieve Monday delivery. At 2100 hours on Friday evening (1600 East Coast US) we got the reply we wanted and made sure the order was then assigned to a direct Saturday evening flight. 

To summarize, what is interesting here is that most freight forwarders work from say 0830-1730 so the UK office of the forwarder (the one who would generally update the client) had finished however they have their own holiday period challenges too, and our usual contact was on holiday on Friday which left another gap so we dealt with another less familiar contact until close of business Friday.
On Saturday morning, we wanted to ensure everything was still on track and checked that both the Texas and New Hampshire shipments were moving as planned, which they were.

So, on Monday morning (today) at 0730 we requested a status update for the customer, and Mark's relief contact came into work with some great news for their own customer, knowing that we had been working behind the scenes over the weekend to make this all happen.

I'm sure that many customers will experience not only the effect of their own departments being stretched, but also their freight forwarder sometimes struggling to maintain the service levels when they themselves are short staffed due to holiday breaks, or other reasons throughout the year, such as sickness, training, maternity or paternity leave.

I suppose the moral here is, if you say you care about customers, demonstrate this in your actions and secondly, don't undervalue what you do for your customers when you go above and beyond your core offering. For me, I don't think I've ever forgotten what I learned about going above and beyond in my days in forwarding operations and how doing something extra can make such a massive difference to a customer. That's why I love what I do.
If you take a look at our testimonials, I think you will be impressed, companies large and small rate us highly and our very first client from 2010 is still on board today. I have also been a panel judge at the Lloyds Global Freight Awards for 2 years so we're known as industry and market experts.
Andy Cliff is an industry professional who launched his own logistics consultancy, Straightforward Consultancy Ltd (SCL) after a 30 year career in international logistics, working for companies such as DB Schenker, Kuehne & Nagel and DHL Global Forwarding in operational, sales and management roles. 
Andy is part of the  judging panel for the 2016 Global Freight Awards, his second year in this prestigious role. The awards recognize quality, innovation and performance in the field of international logistics.  
Andy felt that in an increasingly complex and confusing world of logistics, UK importers and exporters needed a company alongside them which could help them to reduce costs, lessen their workload and provide expert advice and support day-to-day.